THE SPEAK (2011)

The Speak.jpg

Studio:       Outsider Pictures
Director:    Anthony Pierce
Writer:       Anthony Pierce, Brett Donowho, Lamont Magee, Martin Wiley
Producer:  Brett Donowho, Martin Wiley
Stars:     Tom Sizemore, Kristina Anapau, Una Jo Blade, Tina Casciani, Brett Donowho, Michael Klinger, Steven Nelson

Review Score:



The cast and crew of a paranormal web series uses The Speak, a Native American ritual that creates a gateway between the living and the dead, to summon the supernatural at a haunted hotel.



At film markets where independent features look for someone to buy the movie, the first question an international distributor asks is, “are there any stars?”  (The second question is, “is there any nudity?”  The third has to do with the amount of action and violence.)  Naturally then, the foremost way to make any movie marketable is to cast a recognizable name.

From that perspective, it is easy to see why “The Speak” cast Tom Sizemore to add some heft to a credits list of unfamiliar names.  Except that strategy is at direct odds with the very concept of a “found footage” horror movie.  Granted, there has yet to be a “found footage” movie that is actually “found footage,” despite what press releases want audiences to believe.  Yet any pretense of such a conceit is immediately shattered when Sergeant Horvath from “Saving Private Ryan” enters the screen 12 minutes into the film.

In a way, that approach can be appreciated, even if it dispels the “found footage” premise.  They simply said, “forget it” to the obligatory title card these movies usually have that explain how the footage was edited from police evidence, film cans discovered buried underground, etc.  There is enough respect for the audience that they do not even pretend as if this film was recovered from some real-life event.

It’s a straightforward story.  Six people explore an abandoned ______ (fill in the blank: house, hotel, hospital, asylum, etc.).  Hauntings ensue.  The people try to escape, usually unsuccessfully.  It is a surprise then, to see four names credited as screenwriters for what is essentially just people trapped in a haunted house.  Or in this case, hotel.  They even pile on the unoriginality with a backstory that involves the hotel doubling as an insane asylum and being built on Native American land.  If only the person that had committed suicide there had been a priest they would have hit the trifecta.

To pump up the atmosphere for a web series about this supposedly haunted hotel, danger is intentionally invited through The Speak, a Native American ritual that opens a doorway between the realm of the living and the realm of the dead.  Not a smart idea if you are a character in a horror film.

To the filmmakers’ credit, they never bite off more than they can chew.  It appears as if they had access to an abandoned hotel or rundown office building and said to themselves, “what can we do with this?”  The lighting and overall look is kept just dark and moody enough to prevent the FX from showing more of their price tag than would be acceptable.  It looks like a pair of P.A.’s fluttered sheets of black construction paper at the top of the frame to simulate attacking crows.  But the director also seems aware of this and only shows as much as is necessary to keep the story moving.

“The Speak” was shot Alfred Hitchcock “Rope”-style to make it appear as if it was all done in one take.  At the very least, this shows that actual preparation went into blocking the scenes because a lot of ground is traversed in the hallways and actors have to hit their marks at precise times.  They didn’t just send in the cast to ad-lib and hope for a film to pull itself from the raw footage like many “found footage” movies tend to do.  Which is probably for the best, as these actors overplay their scenes to the point of becoming caricatures.

Steven Nelson plays the host of a web series presumably about the paranormal.  It is not expressed if the series is about the paranormal, or just this particular episode.  Either way, he is a curious choice as host since he makes it clear that he does not believe in ghosts or the supernatural to begin with.  And I cannot imagine actually viewing a regular series with him as the lead, what with the way he bugs out his eyes and talks with his hands while over-delivering every line of his webisode script.

Brett Donowho lays it on similarly thick as the audio tech, Jackson.  The only way he plays evil is by tilting his head down and looking up from beneath a furrowed brow in every single scene.

It is funny that they even have an audio tech.  The show has already begun recording before Jackson arrives.  He never even completes his task of putting mics on everyone either, yet they are all heard with crystal clear audio throughout the film.

Like the portal the characters open with the titular ritual, “The Speak” exists somewhere between two worlds.  It isn’t a mess, but it isn’t exactly worth seeing, either.  It could be that I am feeling overly generous when I should merely be yawning in word form.  I recently finished reviewing the “found footage” film “The Amityville Haunting,” which seemed made by people who cared little about what they were doing.  “The Speak” was made with sincere effort, and I want to at least recognize that.  There is just a question about what was actually accomplished.  The story is well beyond overdone and the budget restricts anything interesting from going up on the screen.  With nothing unique to offer, what is the point?  “The Speak” accomplishes some of what it sets out to do.  What it does is simply nothing that demands an audience watch it.

Review Score:  40